Some powerful stories top my offerings today. The death penalty, gay marriage and other hot topics are covered, but the distinctive elements of them may leave substantial room for legitimate argument.

Some of the regular readers and commentors on my blog are familiar with this first tale. The subject was discussed at length in another forum with some very interesting, and in some cases, surprising views expressed.

There is a man awaiting execution in Texas next week who is a certified paranoid schizophrenic. He has been forced to take medication that presumably restores him to competence, because otherwise he’s, to use a technical term, batshit crazy.

I present to you one Steven Staley. He committed the murder for which he was convicted and sentenced to death. In 1989 after escaping a Denver jail he went on a robbery spree ending up at a Steak and Ale Restaurant in Tarrant County, Texas near closing. He and his two friends took the money and Staley took the manager hostage and fled in his car. While the police were chasing him, he shot and killed the manager.

Emily bazelon fills in some details.

And here are the facts of Staley’s mental illness: He has a long history of paranoid schizophrenia and depression. Staley was abused as a child by his mother, who was also mentally ill; when he was 6 or 7 she tried to pound a wooden stake through his chest. His father was an alcoholic. Staley tried to kill himself as a teenager. Doctors who have examined Staley on death row have said that he talks in a robot-like monotone yet has “grandiose and paranoid” delusions, including the beliefs that he invented the first car and marketed a character from Star Trek. He has given himself black eyes and self-inflicted lacerations and has been found spreading feces and covered with urine. Medicated with the anti-psychotic drug Haldol, Staley complained of paralysis and sometimes appeared to be in a catatonic state. He has worn a bald spot on the back of his head from lying on the floor of his cell.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the 8th Amendment prohibits the execution of the “insane”. But the Justices left wiggle room when they also said that one could be put to death who had at least a minimal understanding that he is to die and why.

A court order was entered compelling Staley to be medicated.

In two cases in the 1990s, the Supreme Court said that the government can forcibly medicate a mentally ill inmate if he is dangerous to himself or others, the treatment is in his medical interest, and there is no less intrusive alternative. In 2003, the court acknowledged concerns about side effects of the drugs, and emphasized that the treatment had to be medically appropriate. None of these cases involved pending executions, however. When death is the state’s end goal, how can anyone argue that forcible medication is in a prisoner’s medical interest? The Louisiana and South Carolina supreme courts have both rejected that macabre contention in ruling that to drug someone in order to execute him would violate their state constitutions.

Bazelon cites two other Texas cases, now on appeal, where clearly deeply disturbed men were found competent to stand trial and be executed. You can read the link to find details of the manifestations of their illnesses. They are quite graphic.

I, of course, object to capital punishment under any circumstances. But I wonder if anyone who supports the penalty could justify any purpose served by executing these men.

Also from Slate the always excellent Dahlia Lithwick, together with Sonja West, explains why President Obama did not go far enough in voicing his support of gay marriage. Instead of leaving it to the states, they opine, this is truly a federal question of Constitutional rights.

The “marriage is a purely state issue” rhetoric has been around for some time. It’s become a familiar default argument, maybe because it sounds fair and feels safe.  But having “evolved” this far on gay marriage, the time has come to evolve our own thinking on what is really at stake when we talk about marriage equality.  We must embrace that this is a constitutional and not a democratic issue. Equality is not a popularity contest.  This is hardly a radical argument. It’s Supreme Court doctrine: Our rights to be treated as equal and full citizens do not evaporate when we cross state lines. Rather there are certain essential liberties, even in the realm of marriage, we all enjoy regardless of our ZIP code.  

This is the rationale for treating the issue as such.

We pause now for a quick constitutional law primer: The Supreme Court has decided marriage cases under both the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment.  The Due Process Clause protects fundamental rights while the Equal Protection Clause prohibits discrimination. Seen as a denial of a fundamental right under the Due Process Clause, the case for marriage equality for same-sex couples should be obvious. Viewed as a matter of discrimination under the Equal Protection Clause it becomes slightly more complicated. The court has acknowledged that certain groups of people are more likely to face discrimination and thus it demands more of the government when it tries to treat them differently.  The court has been coy, however, about telling us whether people who are denied a government benefit based on their sexual orientation receive this kind of heightened protection. But the logic for stronger constitutional protection is undeniable. Like racial minorities and women, homosexuals as a group have historically faced societal and government discrimination based on a personal characteristic they cannot control. Thus, as with race and gender, the federal courts must be the guardians of justice and ensure that they are treated equally. That is the argument Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, N.J. has been advancing most vocally.

Same sex marriage should be examined in the same manner as miscegenation laws were dealt with by SCOTUS in the ’60’s. Furthermore it is important for the Court to be clear and timely on deciding such controversies. Otherwise they risk the backlash and messy resolutions arising from Brown v Board of Education and Roe v Wade.

This next item is also from the gay rights spectrum but it is a surprising recommendation from an unlikely source. Jan van Lohuizon, a respected Republican pollster, has circulated a memo among certain GOP higher-ups telling them to get on the bandwagon regarding gays.

Andrew Sullivan presents this revelation thusly.

The last paragraph is, to my mind, the most remarkable. It’s advising Republican candidates to emphasize the conservative nature of gay marriage, to say how it encourages personal responsibility, commitment, stability and family values. It uses Dick Cheney’s formula (which was for a couple of years, the motto of this blog) that “freedom means freedom for everyone.” And it uses David Cameron’s argument that you can be for gay marriage because you are a conservative.

The entire memo is available and it is fairly brief.

One could take a 100% cynical approach and charge that this action is without full conviction, insincere, and designed solely to deflect a loss of votes. That is not an unreasonable attitude.

However, look at it this way. If the politicians follow through and take this advice, insincere or not, it will be ever more difficult to resist the tide of history.

Now for a purely visual treat.

This last item, a look at the JPMorgan loss of $2 BILLION on derivatives trading, should make it far more difficult for lobbyists to keep their clients from more intense regulatory scrutiny.

JPMorgan revealed on Thursday that it had lost about $2 billion (with possibly more losses to come) from risky bets on opaque derivatives at a London trading desk.

The pressure on the bank intensified on Friday, with reports that the Securities and Exchange Commission had opened an investigation of its trades and Fitch Ratings downgrading the bank’s long-term credit rating to A+ from AA-.

JPMorgan’s big losing trade shows that at least some big banks are engaged in the same sort of behavior that rocked the financial system in 2008, if on a smaller scale.

“This is a smaller version of the same betting that went on in 2006,” said Will Rhode, a principal and director of fixed income at The Tabb Group, a financial-markets research and advisory firm.

“Ultimately, this is about banks being dissatisfied with the single-digit returns on equity that are associated with their conventional lending businesses, and trying to find other ways to make money,” said Daniel Alpert, founding managing partner at investment bank Westwood Capital, “with risk, once again, taking a backseat to potential reward.”

The Volcker Rule, a ban on proprietary trading by federally insured  banks and part of Dood-Frank, is due to go into effect in July…

…though Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has suggested regulators will probably miss the deadline. Part of the delay is due to a barrage of pressure from lobbyists, who have helped to complicate and water down the rule.

Where’s the moral outrage from conservatives on shenanigans like this that put our economy at risk? I guess they’re too busy executing the insane and trying to keep gays from marrying.

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  • thedrivler  On May 12, 2012 at 3:00 PM

    There is something wrong with the site’s password hickey.

  • thedrivler  On May 13, 2012 at 1:24 AM

    I am unable to log on as Deke.

    • umoc193  On May 13, 2012 at 9:10 AM

      I have no control over that, other than choosing my settings. I’ll see if I can get help on the site.

  • little_minx  On May 13, 2012 at 11:23 AM

    This is a test, to see whether Deke’s problem is universal or unique to his log-on.

  • Deke James  On May 13, 2012 at 1:12 PM

    I will just use my face book account.

    • umoc193  On May 14, 2012 at 6:12 AM

      Sorry for your difficulty in accessing, Deke. I couldn’t get help in attempting to determine what was amiss.

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